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FEATURE | Idrissa Gueye – an assessment of his 1st 8 months at PSG

Over the last few seasons, the midfield became a glaring weakness in the Paris Saint-Germain line-up. The lack of depth in this position has led to Marquinhos having to play minutes as a defensive midfielder, which is why during the summer transfer window, Les Parisiens purchased Idrissa Gueye from Everton FC for €32m.

Initially brought in to help fill the void in a deeper-lying role that was left vacant when Thiago Motta retired in 2018, Gueye has assumed various responsibilities in the midfield during his first seven months. Regardless of where the Senegalese international is on the pitch for PSG, he’s thriving and has helped Marco Verratti stabilise the midfield.

Bringing Versatility in Midfield

Gueye has made 31 total appearances for PSG this season, 19 coming in essentially a defensive midfield role where he’s become one of the better players in that position in Ligue 1. The 30-year-old brings physicality to the table, which is vital for Les Parisiens as the squad has lacked someone in the midfield that will both retrieve the ball and drive forward with it.

Known for his bustling style of play at former club Everton, one of the aspects Gueye’s form that’s translating back to the French league is indeed the high amount of tackles he’s executing per game. According to statistics from Get Football Group’s data partner InStat, he is in the top five in Ligue 1 when it comes to tackles per 90, achieving 3.54, with only Eduardo Camavinga, Lamine Fomba, and William Vainqueur averaging more than the Gueye for midfielders with more than 15 appearances.

Despite the physicality that Senegalese brings, his athleticism has enabled him to develop a knack for interceptions: another way in which he’s successfully disrupting opposition play. He ranks in the top ten in terms of interceptions in the French top flight per 90 with 1.8, further evidencing the extent of the versatility that Gueye brings to how he gets the ball to his talented, more attack-minded teammates.

When Gueye combines this pair of skills consistently over the course of a match, it results in monstrous performances, winning the majority of his duels like he achieved in the opening Champions’ League match against Real Madrid this season and during the return leg against Borussia Dortmund. As a result, if PSG are able to go on a deep run in Europe’s premier competition this season, they will need Gueye to bring this form for all remaining fixtures.

Shortcomings

There plenty of qualities that the 30-year-old has brought to PSG since arriving in the summer, but there are small details that Gueye might want to iron out as the capital club hopes to make a deep run in the Champions’ League.

In his first season, Gueye has shown that he’s more than capable of playing against top European clubs like Real and Dortmund, which is why they need him to be available for these important fixtures. The 30-year-old’s shortcomings thus far have not exactly manifested themselves on the pitch, but Gueye has endured two recurring injuries, one to the groin and the other to the hamstring, which have cost him to miss a couple of group stage matches in the Champions’ League.

If there’s anyone that needs to remain healthy going forward once the season resumes, it’s Gueye. With a thin midfield group, PSG potentially need Gueye to dial back the herculean efforts that he is constantly making to attempt to recover the ball at all costs in every fixture, such is his importance to the starting eleven.

The Future of Gueye Going Forward

At 30-years-old, Gueye is exiting the prime of his career, but he still can hold down the position of a box-to-box midfielder. With injuries, perhaps playing in the defensive midfield role is starting to become more demanding on the body. Taking a look at most of the significant matches PSG has played during the 2019/2020 season, Gueye has played the majority of the time in somewhat of a hybrid of the two positions: in a double pivot in Tuchel’s 4-4-2, which has seen him be relied upon as the more advanced midfielder positionally, with Verratti tasked with pulling the strings with passes from deeper. However, Gueye’s engine and flexibility have meant that he is also relied upon to stop opposition counters, so positionally he is expected to be deeper than Verratti in defence and further up the field in attack.

It is not sustainable for Gueye to continue exerting the effort and energy he does as a pure box-to-box in a two-man midfield, as he enters his thirties. In order to get the most out of Gueye and not endanger his long-term fitness, Tuchel either has to position him in the same role but in a three-man midfield, or fundamentally deeper, with Verratti playing as an advanced playmaker.

The future is however bright for Gueye and PSG, in the Qatari Sports Investment era, the club has a documented track record of squeezing a few good seasons out of players in their 30’s, particularly in the midfield. Blaise Matuidi and Thiago Motta were both able to give Les Parisiens exceptional output for years before departing from the squad. If Gueye can balance his physical form, maintaining the body as it ages, and having a manager to put him in a responsible position, then there’s no question Gueye can be serious net contributor to the club’s ultimate aim of winning the Champions’ League.

E.R.

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